Our cover picture depicts a BR Standard 4MT tank back at Midsomer Norton and is a classic and quite wonderful example of the heritage movement thumbing its nose at the inevitable march of time, for it is 50 years since the closure of the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway system.
This year we have also seen other major half centenaries, all with a negative slant; the others being 50 years since the withdrawal of the A4 Pacifics as well as the closure of the Great Central as a through route, as marked by a mini gala at Loughborough in early September.
And there’s more to come in abundance, as we recall the rapid demise of both steam and so much of the rail network in the aftermath of the Beeching era. March next year will see 50 years since the end of steam on the Cambrian Coast Line and the demise of the GWR Paddington to Birkenhead line.
The biggie comes in July, with the end of Southern steam, which no doubt Steam Dreams will commemorate in splendid style, followed by the final Eastern Region steam and the withdrawal of the Jubilees in September.
December 2017 will see 50 years since the end of steam over both Shap and the Settle & Carlisle route, and June 1968 will be half a century since the Matlock to Buxton line closed.
August 1968 is indelibly etched in memories and folklore as the month when British Rail standard gauge steam haulage ended, although by then most of the linesiders had long since gone home.
More followed with the closure of the Waverley Route in January 1970, but at least when we come to mark that particular half centenary, we can be thankful for the new Borders Railway.
The irony is that we are able to mark all of these 50th anniversaries purely because of the magnificent achievements of the heritage sector in the decades that followed closure. With barely an inch of siding space available in Barry scrapyard half a century ago, and only a handful of revival schemes such as the Bluebell, Dart Valley and Keighley & Worth Valley railways having got past the wishful thinking stage, who would then have thought that the 21st century portfolio of heritage lines would be anywhere near the colossal and growing size that it is?
Yes, we will always commiserate the passing of much that was lost through short-sightedness, but we have equally as much to loudly celebrate. Much has been accomplished, but there is still much more out there for us to do.
Turn to page 40 and look at the wonderful vista beneath an azure sky that is Totnes main line station. Its signalbox rendered obsolete by technology, it is now a station cafe, and forming the backdrop is the surviving Brunel atmospheric railway pumping station that was so nearly lost when the dairy, of which it had become part, closed.
As with so much of the preservation sector, it was pressure by people power that saved this landmark from demolition, and now townsfolk are to be given a say in its future in a ground-breaking local referendum.
Victorian Totnes is a lovely town with many fine buildings, topped by its medieval castle, and it is a joy to climb up its main street. Yet we came so close to losing what is arguably an equally important building from its transport history, and there are still so many historic structures that are at similar and often needless risk all over the country.
At the opposite end of the Ashburton branch from Totnes stands a superb Brunel-designed terminus that has been used as a garage for nearly half a century, and there is growing support for it to be returned to railway use as part of the South Devon Railway, to the great potential benefit of the town’s economy. People power has, for now, stalled plans by the Dartmoor National Park Authority to allow it to be used for very different purposes, precluding the return of rails to Ashburton. Here is another opportunity too good to miss and well worth fighting for. Our battles are far from over yet.
Robin Jones, Editor